Jumping Back Slash (Gareth Jones), a British native who moved to South Africa several years ago has, for a while now, been a strong advocate for the Gqom sound, a sound that is distinctly South African, and that has slowly been encroaching into the global music scene. Describing it as a form of house that is stripped down to the beat, rhythmically repeating itself into a hypnotic tribal flow, Jones has become one of the leading proponents in this forward-thinking ‘South African techno’ that is slowly taking the world by storm. Heavily influenced by Kwaito and House that has already become a staple in the South African township music scene, Gqom has emerged as a more youth-oriented form, with its main proprietors being mostly anonymous kids who play around with music production software. Given its innovative grassroots origins, the potential for this sound to develop is unparalleled.
However, on his latest EP, Horses, Jones has gone for a decidedly more four to the floor beat, with its focus primarily being that of the drum machine. Yet despite wavering slightly from the general unconventionality of Gqom towards a more predictable sound, Horses still maintains a wonderfully South African charm, emanating first from the budding synths and snares that abound in the opening moments of the title track (we premiered the music video on Friday). With the onset of a rhythmic beat, Sprightly flute-like trimmings are introduced to crown the pulsations within. Dipping into a moment of calm, the track gradually develops into a culmination of rich euphoric sounds. Exhilaration abounds in this track, with its most appropriate comparison being that of the sensation of riding a galloping horse through the veld.
‘Broken Record Days,’ the following track on the EP, takes on a slightly darker, more club-oriented sound, with the drum-machine focus made evident right from the get-go. A windy trail of bass weaves amongst the rhythmic flow of the beats, and modulated electronic voices dart throughout. The final track, a bonus beat titled ‘Soft Slump’ brings the EP to a pounding Gqom work, where the syncopated sounds are stitched together to form a sound more inaccessible to those found in the tracks above. It is, as he says, very much a ‘bonus beat’ that adds little to the EP, other than perhaps a greater showcase of the oddities of Gqom at large. Yet, the repetitive and tribal characteristics of the Gqom sound really shine through on this EP, showing the true variance and potential for innovation within this one sphere.
On the Bandcamp page, Jones has noted a number of unusual genre tags that speak to the endless potentials of this blend of music he has adopted. Words like ‘Afrotonical’, ‘Afrotronics’ and ‘Afrikan techno,’ not to mention ‘Gqom’ are used as descriptors, which, of course, run the risk of shaping a listener’s expectations in some shape or form. Yet, in practice, this is impossible: one may expect one thing, only to be faced with another. That is the nature of these developing genres that are constantly being defined and redefined by emerging agents in their field. Being one of the champions of the scene, Jones has shown that there are endless opportunities for being experimental, while at the same time, being able to maintain authenticity.
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